Sep 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals players Eric Hosmer (35) and Mike Moustakas (8) celebrate after beating the Texas Rangers 2-1 at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Royals Will Win the American League Central

Feb 25, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) throws during a workout at Surprise Stadium practice area Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, since 1985, we have waited for the Royals to return to the postseason. While the memory of their last playoff appearance, and Bret Saberhagen getting mobbed on the mound, are treasured amongst those of us that got to see it, there is an entire generation of fans that have not gotten to see playoff baseball in Kansas City during their lifetimes. Even though we could always plug in the VCR and replay those videotapes, it just is not the same for those that could not experience it in their lifetimes. Those memories are not their own.

Aside from the tease of 2003, the Royals have not been close to returning to the playoffs. Even last year, when they posted their best record since 1989, the Royals essentially eliminated themselves by going 8-20 in May. They fought hard and made it close in the end, but they were unable to dig out of that hole. Yet, perhaps more than any other season, the 2014 feels as though it may be the Royals year.

Yes, there are questions about the Royals starting rotation. We all know that Ervin Santana is likely not walking into the clubhouse in Surprise, unless he signs with the Rangers. However, the offense, with a legitimate leadoff hitter in Norichika Aoki and the developing Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez, should be much improved. Aoki and Omar Infante are defensive upgrades over their predecessors. In fact, the Royals could end up having a Gold Glove caliber player at virtually every position on the diamond most nights, after having six players nominated last year. In fact, the Royals appear to be at approximately the same point, if not better, than they were at last year. A minimum of between 85 to 87 wins should be expected in 2014.

In fact, 87 or so wins may be enough for the playoffs. While the Twins have improved, they are still not yet serious contenders at this point. The White Sox appear to be committed to a complete rebuild, and could find themselves vying for the top pick in the 2015 draft.

Once again, the Royals competition for the American League Central crown will be consist of the Tigers and the Indians. Cleveland lost key pieces of their bullpen in Joe Smith and Chris Perez. Their two free agent signings for their major league roster, John Axford and David Murphy, are not the type of players that are likely to separate the Indians from the rest of the Central. In fact, Cleveland was actually considered to be a bit lucky last year, having finished five games better than expected based on underlying statistics and the runs they should have scored.

Detroit, meanwhile, traded away the very underrated Doug Fister and the corpulent Prince Fielder, weakening their team. There are now questions as to who will not only protect Miguel Cabrera in the lineup, but who will man third base. Fister was an excellent third starter, and was a big part of why the Tigers starting rotation was one of the best in baseball last year. However, there are even questions there. Can Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer perform at the same level as they did in 2013?

With both the Tigers and the Indians likely to fall back, and the expectation that the Royals will remain at roughly the same level as they were at last year, it may be that the Royals find themselves once again in a close race for the playoffs. This time, with the experience of a playoff chase behind them, the Royals may come out on top.

There is nothing quite like the memories that are made during the playoffs. With the Tigers and Indians seemingly primed to fall back to the rest of the pack, this could be the year for a generation of Royals fans to make their own.

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Tags: Kansas City Royals

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